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China's Peacekeeping Role Deemed Important
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By Wu Miaofa

Lately, the Chinese Government announced that it would increase its troops in Lebanon to 1,000 on a United Nations peace mission.

China has always supported the Middle East peace process, believing deployment of enlarged United Nations peacekeeping forces in Lebanon facilitates the implementation of UN Resolution 1701 and helps stabilize the Middle East.

China's involvement in UN peacekeeping operations in the past was limited. But this time, a 1,000-men corps is to be dispatched to Lebanon. A number of factors are behind the decision.

To begin with, the Chinese peacekeepers previously sent to relevant areas fulfilled their missions well and were widely acclaimed by the locals and the international community.

In addition, China believes that the peacekeeping mission in Lebanon carries much importance and the Chinese involvement in the operation will help China play a significant role in the Middle East peace process.

Finally, the French Government asked China to dispatch a sizable peacekeeping force to Lebanon.

When the country's legitimate seat in the United Nations was restored in 1971, China began studying UN peace missions while engaged in other affairs, such as organizing the Security Council's emergency meetings.

Restrained by the country's diplomatic guidelines at the time, China refrained from getting involved in UN peacekeeping missions, believing that they were unable to defuse regional crises once and for all. The country, therefore, distanced itself from UN peace-maintaining tasks.

However, China participated in the UN Peacebuilding Commission in 1988, marking an important turning point in Chinese diplomacy.

Chinese foreign policy mutated when the country's priorities shifted from class struggle to economic progress and that the nation's door swung open to the rest of the world.

China then got involved selectively in UN peacekeeping operations, believing that UN peacekeeping efforts played an important part in preventing regional conflicts and relieving regional disputes.

Since the 1990s, China has become increasingly involved in UN peace missions and the sizes of Chinese peacekeeper contingents has grown larger and larger.

In 1990, China for the first time sent military observers to the Middle East. The country's first "blue-helmet" task force was organized in 1992 and dispatched to Cambodia. In 2001, China joined the United Nations peacekeeping standby mechanism. Starting from 2002, the country began to send sizable peacekeeping contingents to relevant regions and countries.

Two training bases were set up in Nanjing of Jiangsu Province and Langfang of Hebei Province to select and train Chinese peacekeepers. On their curriculums were foreign language learning, emergency training, logistics and liaisons with peacekeepers from other countries.

China has got involved in 15 UN peace-keeping operations since 1990, dispatching 6,000 troops or policemen to global hotspots.

Cambodia and Namibia were the first two destinations for Chinese peacekeepers. Cambodia saw 800 Chinese military engineers and 47 military observers. In nearly two years, the Chinese engineers repaired four devastated highways and 47 bridges. They also issued logistical aid.

Currently, 125 Chinese peacekeepers are stationed in Haiti. In addition, there is sizable Chinese peacekeeper presence in both Congo and Liberia.

The 1,000-man contingent to be dispatched to Lebanon is the largest ever Chinese peacekeeper corps by far.

Why the unprecedented size? This has to do with the Chinese Government's understanding of the UN peacekeeping. It is believed that the missions are effective. This is multiplied by the fact that developing countries have high expectations for Chinese peacekeepers. In view of this, China, as one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council, should and does take an active part in the UN peacekeeping operations.

From 1949, when the People's Republic of China was founded, to 1971, the United Nations was viewed by China as a capitalist-class organ. As a result, China could not play a significant role in the United Nations even when its legitimate seat was restored.

When its seat in the United Nations was restored, China's basic policy inside the world organization was to stand up to the two superpowers, the Soviet Union in particular, and support the just demands of the developing world.

Things began to change in the late 1970s and early 1980s when China embarked on the road of reform and opening up, which lent new dimensions to the Chinese diplomatic outlook. The country got involved in UN operations and activities in an all-around way.

China has increasingly integrated itself into the international community since the 1990s, participating in the vast majority of international organizations and making its voice heard on all major international issues.

Now, the country is deeply involved in an international system with the United Nations as its nucleus. Meanwhile, it is also the system's maintainer and builder.

Why does the country find itself in this niche?

An accurate analysis of the international situation is behind all this. In this era of peace, development and co-operation, instead of revolution and war, we need to work hard to help bring about a harmonious world and, in the course, China's international image will be boosted.

In addition, since economic progress has been at the core of China's national interests since the late 1970s, we need to build up good relations with all countries in the international system to help create a climate favorable to China's economic development.

China is also working to push the international political and economic system towards fairness and justice, recognizing that the existing order is imperfect.

The author is a researcher with the China Institute of International Studies.

(China Daily November 3, 2006)


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